Artist James Garden shares his illustrations representing mental health

“I’ve hit rock bottom.”

These are words we all hope to never hear from a loved one. They imply a fragility of character we often don’t face. They state that somebody we love may have given up, that they have been made to feel that they can’t keep going by their own mind, that they have no hope. These words suggest a struggle with our own psyche, one we can’t see with our eyes, but what would it look like if we could see these emotions?

Artist and music shop owner James Garden, 35, has been drawing inspiration from his mental health to bring life to a huge array of pictures in the past few years.

Using his iPad to draw, he found comfort in expressing his thoughts, feelings and ideas whilst also immersing himself in the process, allowing himself escapism from negative situations within his life.

James said: “I think those first few weeks I sketched out twenty different pictures, some were manic scribbles, others with a lot more care and detail. I’d kept these to myself thinking they weren’t very good and no one else would really want to see them.

“I remember drawing a piece with a guy struggling against the rain looking out across the water to a castle in the distance. I’d spent a long time working on it and was really proud once I’d finished. I looked back through my other pictures and thought to myself about how happy they make me, just looking at them and remembering each moment of small achievement when they were finished.”

Art by James Garden

James decided to post one of his early images to Facebook with the caption: ‘It doesn’t matter if you create something that other people don’t like or understand as long as you love it. That’s what matters.’ The responses to his posts were so positive, he decided to create a dedicated space in which to share his art: he called this space Mind Doodles.

Art by James Garden

James’ art quickly grew popular. Mind Doodles quickly attracted the attention of people who had been affected by his artwork and wanted to have some for their own.

James said: “People requested commission pieces and I decided to donate the profits to charity. I thought to myself, if one of my pictures could brighten just one person’s day then it was worth posting, so I’ve been drawing every day since. Any print sales have been donated to local mental health charities in Ipswich. Specifically 4YP, the Young Person’s Health Project.”

James’s art had such an impact, BBC’s Look East ran a local news story which reached even more people. His personal method of coping with his mental illness began to affect others.

“From the night it aired I had all sorts of people get in touch, people saying that my story helped them and that they too had started to focus on artwork and creating as a way of switching off from their worries for a couple of hours every day, or that they’d seen a particular piece that summed overwhelming for me, but it was all positive and with a lot of praise which helped my own sense of worth.

“I figured if this helped me then I could encourage others to try the same, to not be afraid to share what you’ve created if that’s what you love doing, spread some positivity in those dark times and if it helps just one person then it’s worth it.”

Through working on his art, James’s world view and experiences have fundamentally changed from feeling closed off and oppressed.

He said: “I found that through drawing I’d notice things in the outside world more: how light bounces off a tree or brickwork, how water ripples. It brought me out of my own mind.

“While walking about it distracted me from busy spaces. But most important I was openly talking about my problems and the things in particular that I was dwelling on.

“It’s surprising when you’re explaining this to friends or strangers and they have been or are going through the same thing. I suddenly didn’t feel alone. I was part of a team of support and being able to support others through my own battles and experiences.”

The future of Mind Doodles is positive and ambitious. James said: “I can’t see myself ever stopping. I enjoy it so much and in these two and a half years have never been bored by it. I plan to keep linking more and more artists, writers and poets and spreading the message that we’re not alone in our mental traumas, that we’re all here for each other as a shoulder to cry on or somebody to lean on, even at the darkest of times.”

Art by James Garden

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